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Setauket Harbor Task Force

Small fry fish in the water beside the Poquott dock. Coastal acidification harms not only shellfish but also can affect the development and behavior of young fish. Photo by Maria Hoffman

A local task force recently took part in a vital water testing project and chose the Village of Poquott to accomplish its task.

George Hoffman lowering the Sonde sensor to collect water depth, temperature and salinity readings before taking water samples for alkalinity. Photo by Maria Hoffman

George Hoffman, co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the organization participated in Shell Day Aug. 22 when the group tested water from the Village of Poquott’s new dock. Shell Day is a six-state water monitoring event coordinated by Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. NECAN, which serves as an interface between research and industry interests, enlisted 50 water quality groups run by citizen scientists to test for levels of ocean acidification along the harbors and bays from Maine to the Long Island Sound.

Covering more than 600 miles of the U.S. Northeast coast, the testing will give scientists a broader picture of the extent of acidification that comes into the ocean from harbors and bays.

“[Acidification] is having impacts on shellfish and baby fish,” Hoffman said. “The problem with a higher acid content of the water is that it starts to impact the shell of the baby shellfish as they are emerging. It weakens the shells and makes them more susceptible to die-offs, and they don’t survive. It’s just impacts the whole food chain.”

Hoffman said the task force tests water conditions in the Sound’s bays and harbors twice a year and was thrilled to participate in Shell Day. The Village of Poquott was the ideal spot for the testing, he said, due to its new dock in the middle of Port Jefferson Harbor, and the task force appreciated village officials allowing them to use the location.

Testing was done during three phases of the tide — low, mid and high — which took place at 11:18 a.m., 2:18 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Hoffman said two water samples were taken from every phase of the tide and then put on ice. The samples were then sent by ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they will be analyzed at the University of Connecticut’s laboratory for alkalinity and salinity.

Poquott Mayor Dee Parrish said in an email the village was pleased that the dock, which was officially opened in June, was chosen. While the goal was to provide a place for residents to use for fishing, photography, summer lounging and social interactions, the testing on the dock was a first.

Mark Smith and George Hoffman with equipment used for water testing. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“Being able to assist the Setauket Harbor Task Force in obtaining the water samples that will provide actionable information for watershed management, strategic habitat protection and restoration is a really fabulous end of season way to celebrate our first year with this wonderful new community asset,” Parrish said.

Laurie Vetere, president of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said in a statement that the group is eager to participate in every study that can determine the health of Port Jefferson and Setauket harbors

“We hope that our efforts on Shell Day 2019 will drive the local and regional governments to step up their efforts to improve the ability of our local waters to provide optimal habitats for our native and dwindling marine life,” Vetere said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the state’s Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, applauded the group’s efforts in a statement. Englebright is responsible for drafting legislation to establish Stony Brook University’s Ocean Acidification Task Force.

“The process of ocean acidification is invisible, and we need to have regional scientific datasets to bring the magnitude of this enormous threat to marine life into plain site and help us develop strategies to address its impacts,” Englebright said. “Time and again, we see that ordinary citizens are ready and willing to help with critical scientific data collection. Shell Day 2019 is a powerful and inspiring example of how we can bring citizen scientists together with leading government agencies to make a real difference.”

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Cadets in the Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block toss a line as they prepare to dock in Port Jeff Harbor Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

From the west, a storm came in. Five U.S. Navy boats watched the clouds sweep in from the opposite direction they sailed, with lightning flicking out of dark skies. 

With the direction of the officers on the small 44-foot crafts, they knew what to do.

Two made it into Port Jefferson Harbor through the night of Aug. 7, while the other three stayed out in the Sound beyond the harbor. People on the vessel Valiant said they saw gusts of wind driving them at 38 knots, then staying in the mid 20s for a time after that. With two reefs in the mainsail and no jib, the boat, carrying eight midshipmen and two other officers, was as light and fast as a bird over a rough swell.

The Intrepid sailing into Port Jeff Harbor on Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We did hit that storm for a little while; for an hour and a half it was pretty rough,” said senior officer first class Joe Llewellyn, laughing, “It was a bit of a thrill … these guys,” he looked to the other young midshipmen, “handled the boat great though.”

The rapid entry into Port Jefferson Harbor was part of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block, where Lt. Matt Vernam, a commanding officer on one of the vessels, took around 40 young midshipmen (despite the name, it consists of both men and women) from Annapolis, Maryland, to Delaware Bay into New York City Harbor, where the cadets watched the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower roll by, before climbing up the Hudson and visiting the USS Intrepid. The boats then sailed down the East River and made good sail until they came outside Port Jefferson during the storm. 

The program that Vernam helps run, called the Offshore Sail Training Squadron, is meant to give cadets a leadership experience. Four midshipmen are up on deck at a time and are instructed to listen to advice as they carry out operations of the vessel, even getting the vessel safely into dock through their own muscle and sweat.

“We try to let these guys run the boat and exercise leadership,” Vernam said. 

George Hoffman, cofounder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, had helped suggest Port Jeff as a place the sailors could visit on their tour. When the boats came in the Thursday morning, they did so with a police boat escort.

Vernam, a graduate of Shoreham-Wading River High School and a Wading River native, said it was nice to be back to his home on the North Shore. His father, Don Vernam, was acting on the Valiant as a civilian volunteer, and his family reunion would include his mother who came up to greet them both on the harbor.

“It’s nice having two local bodies to plan this,” he said.

Rob LoScalzo, a Wading River resident, helped contact the Navy to have the midshipman take their boats into Port Jefferson. His son Mike, a fellow SWR graduate, had just graduated from the Navy academy in May. 

LoScalzo said he has been trying to get the Navy to Long Island for years, originally trying with the Village of Patchogue but the keel was too long for the harbor. 

“With all the naval history that’s around here, with the Culper Spy Ring, to the Taylor Brewster, to the shipbuilding — its rich history — we’re just so excited that we could piece it together.”

The Town of Brookhaven allowed the visitors to use the dock space, and the public was able to visit for tours on the vessels.  

People on the Port Jefferson Tall Ship Committee, who have been working to bring tall, masted sailing ships into Port Jefferson Harbor, watched the tall ship Lady Maryland sail away on the morning’s tide, listening for the cannon shot to announce its departure. Chris Ryon, village historian, said he expects the historical schooner Amistad to make its appearance once again in PJ Harbor some time in the near future.

 

A rundown building on Gnarled Hollow Road and Route 25A may be demolished and the property turned into a passive park. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A familiar corner in East Setauket may get a permanent makeover.

On May 2, Town of Brookhaven council members and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) unanimously approved a resolution to allow Suffolk County to begin the process of purchasing land parcels containing the old derelict building that sits across from East Setauket Pond Park on the southeast corner of Gnarled Hollow Road and Route 25A. The county is buying the land under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection program.

The resolution also authorizes the town to demolish the buildings on the property and maintain and manage the parcel as an open space passive park.

The passage of the town resolution follows a county resolution introduced by Suffolk County legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) that was approved in March. The county legislators determined the land parcel meets the criteria for acquisition under the drinking water program due to the land containing wetlands. The approval of the county resolution also allows Suffolk to appraise the property for possible purchase. Concrete Condor, LLC and Marine Midland Tinker National Bank are listed as the current owners of the buildings on the site.

Hahn said the spot has been recognized as an eyesore for years and is an environmentally sensitive area due to a stream flowing under the property and into waterways such as Setauket Harbor and East Setauket Pond Park. The building’s basement was known to constantly flood because of this running water.

She said the first step is an appraisal of the land parcel, and then the owner will be made an offer. If the offer is accepted, the county and town can move forward with plans for a passive park. She said the municipalities would also look for community input, and they have already consulted with town historian Barbara Russell to see if there is anything of historical value that needs to be preserved.

“It’s exciting that there is real opportunity there,” Hahn said.

Town councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an email the town is committed to preserving open space and creating it when possible.

“In this case, the property on Gnarled Hollow is in an environmentally sensitive wetlands area,” she said. “We think it is important to restore this location to its natural state or as close to natural as possible. This parcel was part of ongoing discussion among the elected officials including myself, [state]Assemblyman [Steve] Englebright, Legislator Hahn and Supervisor Romaine.”

Before the May 2 town council vote, George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, spoke in support of the resolution.

“We call it the Chippendale’s building because of the unique architecture on the top,” Hoffman said. “But it’s derelict, and it’s been boarded up now for seven or eight years.”

Hoffman described Setauket Harbor as an impaired waterway, and he said protecting the stream on the land parcel and the wetlands would help with the task force’s work to improve the waterway. He added a passive park also would be ideal in the location because it is located near where Roe Tavern once stood on Route 25A. Historians believe that General George Washington slept in the establishment in 1790 and traveled along the 25A corridor.

“It’s important for us as a community because it’s an eyesore,” he said.  “It’s helpful to us in terms of changing the ecology of the harbor, and it’s also important to us because of our historic highway.”

Michael Kaufman, of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and a task force member, said he scaled the fence one day to look at the property and described the wetlands as pristine.

He said the task force has partnered with the town to work in cleaning up and maintaining the park next to Se-Port Delicatessen across the street from the property. New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant from the state for the Town of Brookhaven in 2016 to be used to improve water quality in Setauket Harbor. The grant was also allocated to help clean out the pond slightly west of Se-Port and fix the dock on Shore Road. The contract period began Oct. 1, 2018. Kaufman said the future open space would complement the current park across the street.

“There is a chance to really make something spectacular which we otherwise would not really have there on both sides of the street,” Kaufman said. “There’s an excellent entryway into the area and an excellent exit.”

BJ Intini and Lois Reboli of the Reboli Center accept the Community Recognition Award with presenter Beverly C. Tyler

CELEBRATING THE THREE VILLAGE COMMUNITY

The Three Village Historical Society held its 42nd annual Awards Celebration at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 27. The evening recognized volunteers, local businesses, society members and area residents who have made significant contributions to help preserve the shared heritage within the Three Village area. Honored guests included the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Michael Tessler, Leah S. Dunaief, Patricia Yantz, Morton Rosen, Steven G. Fontana, the Reboli Center for Art and History, Maura and Matthew Dunn of The Holly Tree House, Marcia Seaman and the Prestia family of Bagel Express. Legislator Kara Hahn and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright also attended to honor the winners.

All photos by Beverly C. Tyler

The pond near Se-Port Delicatessen, in a photo from last year, will benefit from a $1 million state grant. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Setauket Harbor and its surrounding area will be a bit cleaner due to a grant secured by a state senator.

“Long Islanders are fortunate to have access to natural resources like the Setauket Harbor and we must continually fight to preserve them.”

— Sen. John Flanagan

Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant from the state for the Town of Brookhaven in 2016 to be used to improve water quality in Setauket Harbor, which will also help clean out the pond slightly west of Se-Port Delicatessen on Route 25A and fix the dock on Shore Road. While the grant was secured two years ago, the contract period began Oct. 1.

“Long Islanders are fortunate to have access to natural resources like the Setauket Harbor and we must continually fight to preserve them,” Flanagan said in a statement. “That is why projects like this are so important, and it is my pleasure to work with the Setauket Harbor Task Force as well as the Town of Brookhaven to ensure that this beautiful natural resource is protected.  These fragile ecosystems are so critical to every facet of life for the people who live, work and play in our region, and it is imperative that we continually join together to make sure they are available to future generations of Long Islanders.”

Veronica King, the town’s stormwater manager, explained how the money would be put to use.

“The project has three distinct components — repair the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park, remove sediment from the retention pond at [East] Setauket Pond Park, and implement stormwater improvements to mitigate stormwater inputs into the harbor,” she said.

King said the work will take approximately three years to complete and a professional engineering firm will be hired to assist with design, permitting and construction.

“If we don’t fix the pond, we’re just kind of spitting into the wind in terms of all the other stuff we do.”

— George Hoffman

Members of Setauket Harbor Task Force, an organization created with the goal to improve water quality in the harbor, have been consulting with the town about the project, according to task force co-founder George Hoffman.

He said the largest source of pathogens in the harbor are most likely from stormwater from the pond.

“If we don’t fix the pond, we’re just kind of spitting into the wind in terms of all the other stuff we do,” he said.

Hoffman said the pond near the delicatessen serves as an inlet to Setauket Harbor, and stormwater from Route 25A — from around the fire station northeast to the water — washes into it. Hoffman said the pond’s old, faulty water treatment structure is allowing sediment to build up and currently stormwater is going straight into the harbor. He said sediment can include sand that’s been put down on the roads in the winter, items that fall off trucks and cars and pet waste.

“The town has a strong commitment to protecting our natural environment.”

— Veronica King

Hoffman said the goal is to dredge the pond and remove 10 feet of sediment. He said the reconstruction of the stormwater inputs would enable the sediment to go into a catch basin that’s specifically designed to capture it. The sediment will settle and then only water would go into the harbor.

King said the town will contribute $500,000 worth of capital funds, bringing the total allocation to the project to $1.5 million.

“The town has a strong commitment to protecting our natural environment,” she said. “It makes it so much easier when we have the community’s support for projects such as the Setauket Harbor project.”

The town will also need to get approval from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation before removing the sediment, which is standard DEC procedure as at times it may contain toxins. King said it shouldn’t be a problem as the town recently did a grain size analysis and found a high percentage of coarse sand material, and she doesn’t expect any surprises as far as chemical compounds.

Hoffman said he looks forward to the improvements as many people attending the Route 25A Visioning meetings in 2017 pointed to the area around the harbor as having potential.

“We see it as the first phase,” he said. “I think we have some plans to make it the centerpiece of downtown East Setauket.”

The Setauket Harbor Task Force hosted Setauket Harbor Day Sept. 29 at the Brookhaven town dock and beach located on Shore Road in East Setauket. The mission of the Setauket Harbor Task Force is to work toward clean water and healthy harbors.

At the free event, attendees had the opportunity to explore the harbor with kayak lessons, take round-the-harbor boat trips, participate in hands-on harborside activities, take maritime history tours and more.

A few concerned local citizens are taking the health of the Long Island Sound into their own hands.

The 10 locations in Port Jeff Harbor being tested by the Setauket Harbor Task Force. Image from the task force

From May through October, nonprofit Save the Sound, an organization dedicated to the health of the body of water, will continue its Unified Water Study: Long Island Sound Embayment Research program for a second year, testing the water conditions in the Sound’s bays and harbors. The program operates through a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and using a corps of trained testers, called Sound Sleuths, who volunteered to measure dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, temperature, salinity and water clarity out on the water at dawn twice monthly during the six-month period. Port Jefferson Harbor will be tested by members of Setauket Harbor Task Force, a nonprofit group founded in 2014 to monitor and advocate for the health of the harbor, who volunteered to serve as Sound Sleuths. Setauket Harbor lies within the greater Port Jefferson Harbor Complex.

Task force members George and Maria Hoffman, Laurie Vetere and volunteer Tom Lyon set out in a roughly 15-foot-long motorboat May 25 at 6:30 a.m. to test 10 randomly preselected specific locations in Port Jeff Harbor, with testing equipment provided by Save the Sound, for the second round of research set to take place this spring and summer. The testing needs to be completed within three hours of sunrise in order to ascertain the most valid data possible, according to George Hoffman.

George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Task Force tests water chemistry in Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I know a lot of people are familiar with water testing, but it’s usually about pathogens,” Hoffman said, which often is examined to determine the safety of swimming or eating shellfish. Testing for water chemistry will reveal more about the health of marine life in the harbor. Hoffman discussed the task force’s plans for testing during a May 6 meeting of the Port Jefferson Harbor advisory commission, a group overseen by the Town of Brookhaven that includes representation from all nearby municipalities and also takes up the responsibility of monitoring harbor health.

“We’re not testing for pathogens,” he said. “This is really about harbor health and chemistry.”

Hoffman said while out on the boat May 25 the group tested each of the 10 sites twice — once about a half a meter off the bottom of the harbor and once a half a meter from the surface of the water, using an instrument called a sonde, which is attached to a long cable and submerged in the water. Hoffman said the instrument costs about $30,000.

“That gives us a pretty good idea of what’s happening in the water column,” he said.

Save the Sound explained the importance of testing the chemistry of bays and harbors within the Sound in a May 16 press release announcing the year 2 testing kickoff.

Laurie Vetere reads data that’s tracked by Maria Hoffman as the Setauket Harbor Task Force tests Port Jeff Harbor’s water chemistry. Photo by Alex Petroski

“More than a decade of federally funded monitoring of the open Sound has documented the destructive impact of nitrogen pollution — including algae blooms, red tides, loss of tidal marshes and fish die-offs — and the incremental improvements brought about by wastewater treatment plant upgrades,” the release said. “Conditions in the bays and harbors — where much of the public comes into contact with the Sound — can be different from conditions in the open waters. More testing on bays and harbors is needed to judge the effect of nitrogen on these waterways and what action is needed to restore them to vibrant life.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who also chairs the county’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture committee, said while the county has taken up the fight in finding ways to reduce the amount of nitrogen in Long Island’s waters, having dedicated citizens also keeping an eye is an asset.

“That’s critical, these kind of community efforts to protect water bodies,” she said. “It’s special.”

Results of the study will be published in future editions of Save the Sound’s Long Island Sound Report Card.

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Volunteers at last year's spring cleanup at the Stony Brook railroad station. Photo from Kara Hahn's office

The Greening of 25A Committee and Setauket Harbor Task Force are looking for volunteers.

The Greening of 25A Committee

On April 21, The Greening of 25A Committee will hold its annul spring cleanup at the Stony Brook railroad station. The event is scheduled from 8 to 11 a.m. and will be held rain or shine.

The committee needs volunteers to trim bushes, pick up trash, rake leaves, weed, spread mulch, plant flowers and sweep salt, sand and dirt. Bagels and coffee will be provided by Bagel Express.

For more information, call Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) office at 631-854-1650.

Setauket Harbor Task Force

The Setauket Harbor Task Force is looking for volunteers to help the organization collect water quality data.

Twice each month from May to October, the task force will head out from Port Jefferson Harbor at sunrise to collect data at 10 sites in Port Jefferson Harbor, Setauket Harbor and the Narrows near Conscience Bay.

Each monitoring trip will run about three hours, and volunteers can participate at whatever level they are comfortable. Training and equipment will be provided.

For more information, contact George Hoffman at 631-786-6699 or email the task force at setauketharbortaskforce@gmail.com.

Charles Lefkowitz, right, one of the co-founders of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, presents an award to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, center, along with George Hoffman, left, another founding member of the task force. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

When he noticed there were issues with the cleanliness of Setauket Harbor, Charles Lefkowitz took matters into his own hands. A founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Lefkowitz has become an advocate for attention to the harbor.

“Nobody was doing anything and it was just deteriorating until Charlie and a bunch of us got together and said this harbor needs a group of people that will start advocating for its improvement,” said George Hoffman, also a founding member of the task force and a vice president of the Three Village Civic Association.

By forming the task force to call attention to the issues regarding the cleanliness of the harbor, such as roadway runoff, the group was able to procure a $1 million dollar grant in state funding with the help of state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The task force was also appointed to the Long Island Sound Study, a cooperative multistate effort to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound, in existence since 1985.

“As a founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force he has involved himself from the very beginning,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has attended numerous task force meetings. “He has made time out of his very busy schedule to attend meetings, sometimes in the middle of a workday. He very often offers some of the most sage advice around the table. This is worth noting and saying thank you to Charlie for being part of the individual glue that holds our community together. It speaks to a level of sincerity of love of the community and serves as an example of what it means to be a community leader.”

Once an elected official in the Town of Brookhaven, Lefkowitz continues to involve himself with numerous community issues and advocacy groups in addition to the task force.

“He’s a former town councilman and his involvement in our community and to our town continues,” Englebright said. “If anything he is even more effective now because he is unshackled from politics, and he is able to express his commitment to making our community even better.”

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds. That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

— Steve Englebright

Hoffman said Lefkowitz is vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and has reinvigorated the chamber by recruiting new people, broadening the chamber’s focus and making it more representative locally.

“Charlie is responsible for reinventing the chamber of commerce,” Hoffman said. “He is a driving force in keeping the group together and focused.”

Lefkowitz was also involved in the community visioning committees for the re-examination of the zoning along the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area. Drivers along the state road in the vicinity of the Ridgeway Plaza Shopping Center can sometimes see Lefkowitz tending to the flower beds that are planted every spring.

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds,” Englebright said. “That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

Lefkowitz’s influence also extends beyond the Three Village area, according to Hoffman.

“He is a visionary on land use issues especially upper Port Jefferson in terms of its commercial viability,” Hoffman said. “He is also an advocate for electrification of the Port Jefferson branch of the Long Island Rail Road. He focuses on how to make it happen and for the first time we are seeing progress.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has worked on various projects with Lefkowitz, and he is currently working with the town on implementing aspects of the Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study on some of his properties.

“As a former councilman, chamber vice president, business owner and resident, Charlie has a unique perspective of our community,” Cartright said. “Charlie’s knowledge of real estate and of the history of the Three Village area was a valuable addition to the community forums my office held while working on the Route 25A-Three Village area corridor community visioning report this past year. The award of Person of the Year is well deserved by Charlie, and I look forward to seeing him continue to work with residents on community projects.”

Task force inspires local governments to join forces

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, sign a memorandum of understanding to protect Setauket Harbor Sept. 23. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Cooperation between members of government, especially from differing political parties, is a scarce natural resource these days, but don’t tell that to leaders from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and New York State. Setauket Harbor and the surrounding area is set to be the beneficiary of that cooperation, as leaders from each of the three municipalities formed an agreement Sept. 23 aiming to protect the historic and natural resources of the harbor.

“The Parties are committed to conserving, improving, protecting and interpreting Setauket Harbor’s historic and natural resources and environment through preservation of historic sties, wildlife areas and viewsheds to enable appropriate uses of harbor resources,” the agreement read in part. It also stated that preventing, abating and controlling water, land and air pollution will be a part of enhancing the health and safety of the people who live within or visit the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

The agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning it is not law, but rather a set of guiding principles or a moral commitment to follow in the years ahead.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cosigners of the document, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Setauket Harbor Task Force left the agreement open-ended in the hopes that other branches of government and organizations will follow suit. The Setauket Harbor Task Force, a three-year-old community organization dedicated to improving water quality and the marine habitat in the harbor, spearheaded the agreement after finding local levels of government share a common interest in protecting and improving the harbor, though they were working concurrently rather than coordinately in some ways.

The memorandum was signed on a town dock off Shore Road in Setauket as part of the third Setauket Harbor Day, an annual event established by the task force in 2015.

The first mission laid out by the document is to develop a natural and cultural resource inventory of the harbor, which will be a springboard toward creating a management plan designed to achieve the preservation goals of Setauket Harbor and the roughly three-square miles surrounding it, known as the watershed, by acquiring lands within it, preserving historic sites, sharing ideas, engaging in open, ongoing discussions and contributing funds.

“You need to have a starting point and a vision for how all these pieces come together, and I think that’s what’s so great about this designation,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force.

Englebright credited the task force with getting everyone involved and focused on the problems associated with Setauket Harbor, which among others include nitrogen pollution and the presence of coliform bacteria, mostly due to storm water runoff into waterways. The harbor falls within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which lets out into the Long Island Sound.

In Sept. 2016, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he had secured a $1 million grant from the state to be used on enhancing the quality of the harbor’s waters, and the town dock on Shore Road. Englebright thanked Flanagan for his leadership in bringing issues regarding the harbor to light, but a recent annual study completed by Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences still shows the body of water is an area of concern.

“Some of the parcels we’re trying to protect are very vulnerable,” Englebright said. He added although the agreement is only an understanding and not law, he hopes that will change in the future. “What I’m hoping we can do within the context of a completed plan is that we can revisit that question at the state legislative level and write something that may have broad applicability. I think this whole plan has the potential to be a model.”

Romaine said he was excited for the possible benefits to the environment the agreement could bring, but also for the potential economic benefit of a healthier harbor.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Harbor has been closed to shell fishing for more than 10 years,” he said. “We’d like to see it open up. We’d like to see some of the contaminants eliminated from this harbor so that it can restore itself. It’s very important to the town. I want to thank Steve because he’s done tremendous work, and we’ve worked together as colleagues for more than 35 years.”

Hahn suggested homes in the watershed could be prime candidates for Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, an initiative that offers funds to homeowners within the county to replace outdated cesspools and septic system, which are major contributors to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The federal government is not currently on board as part of the agreement, though DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said she expects that to change once a plan is in motion. The significance of the collaboration across party lines and municipality lines in lockstep with a community group like the task force was not lost on Cartright.

“This should be a prime example of how government on all levels should work together with the community,” she said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder of the nonprofit Defend H20, said while the agreement is a positive step, it will be largely symbolic if it is not followed up with action, and more importantly, funding.

“Providing greater funding for a host of projects, land acquisition, more protective zoning, denying shoreline hardening permits — these type actions, individually and collectively will define the resolve as put forth in the MOU,” he said in an email.

Englebright implored members of the public and community groups to not only get on board, but to take the additional step of holding elected officials to the terms of the agreement, including those who come after the incumbent lawmakers.